25/10/2011: Crystal Palace 2-0 Saints

An under strength Saints side crashed out of the Carling Cup 4th round following a 2-0 defeat at Crystal Palace. Both sides were fairly evenly matched, until two defensive errors from the visitors. Nigel Adkins used the same 4-2-3-1 formation that he also employed in the previous two rounds. Jack Cork started in the unfamiliar role of centre back, while debutant James Ward-Prowse sat in midfield alongside Morgan Schneiderlin. Steve De Ridder and Lee Holmes constantly switched flanks throughout the game, with Ben Reeves playing in the hole just behind Jonathan Forte. Saints had a good chance in the opening minutes when Jack Cork had a header cleared off the line from a corner. On 7 minutes Ben Reeves had a low shot well saved by Palace keeper Lewis Price. Palace had a few decent openings, but their finishing was poor. Saints enjoyed plenty of possession, but weren't inventive enough in dangerous areas.

A similar pattern emerged in the second half, with the visitors enjoying much of the play without threatening the Palace goal. Saints played some good patient passing football, but were too predictable in the final third. There was little variation in movement going forward, with the team playing in straight lines. It made it all too easy for the Palace back line, which was rarely troubled. The Eagles took the lead on 73 minutes when Cork's defensive clearance fell to Jonathan Williams, who put in the cross for Darren Ambrose to finish inside the six yard box. It was an unfortunate mistake from Cork, who had actually played very well up until that point in his new role. Williams was involved in the second goal too. The Welsh youngster won a penalty after he was brought down by Dan Harding. Jermaine Easter stepped up and sent Bartosz Bialkowski the wrong way. The introduction of Rickie Lambert and Guly Do Prado made a slight improvement in the closing stages, but by that time it was too late. Palace did well to keep possession and frustrate Saints. The visitors mixed up the play, and became a bit more direct. Guly and Lambert both had decent efforts on goal before the final whistle.

A reasonable performance from Saints tonight, but a lack of quality in attack meant goals were always going to be hard to come by. The likes of De Ridder, Martin, Holmes and Forte deserved a chance, and Adkins was right to put out the team he did, even if it didn't quite work out in the end. There were plenty of positives, with Saints enjoying good spells of possession, and 16 year old youngster James Ward Prowse putting in a composed first showing. Steve De Ridder has done brilliantly recently in the role as super sub, but has yet to convince as a starter. He doesn't possess the same tactical awareness and movement as the likes of Guly and David Connolly, but hopefully that will come with time. Jonathan Forte is not actually a bad player, but he is totally unsuited to the role of lone striker, as was his equally ineffective replacement Lee Barnard. Both work better playing off someone else. The team put in a good effort, but it's clear to see why most of them aren't playing every week.

Attendance: 11,865 (2571 Saints fans)

Match Ratings:

Bialkowski: 6. Had little to do all night apart from picking the ball out of the net twice.

Butterfield: 5. Looked off the pace against former club. Passing erratic.

Martin: 6. Reasonably solid.

Cork: 6. Ability to bring the ball out from the back helped Saints possession game. At fault for first Palace goal, but otherwise decent.

Harding: 7. Generally pretty good for most of the night. Got forward with good effect, and put in some good crosses. Only negative was that he gave away the penalty.

Schneiderlin: 7. Best passer of the ball on the pitch by far.

Ward-Prowse: 7. Solid debut for the 16 year old. Always made himself available for a pass and usually kept it simple. Longer passing was less successful, but credit for trying to be more inventive. Naturally still very green, but plenty of promise shown.

De Ridder: 5. Some good runs early on, but passing poor. Gave the ball away far too many times.

Reeves: 6. Extremely bright early on, at the heart of some good attacking play. Completely anonymous in the second half however

Holmes: 6. Didn't get on the ball as much as he would have liked. Worked hard, but not creative enough.

Forte: 5. Totally unsuited to the role of lone striker. Hold up play not great.

Substitutes:

Barnard: 5. Barely touched the ball after coming on, but good to see him back.

Lambert: Managed a few efforts on goal in the closing minutes.

Guly: Late introduction made an improvement to the side